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Patriarchal Authority and the Southeast Asian Chinese Diaspora in Shirley Geok-lin Lim’s Passports and Other Lives


In Anglophone diasporic Chinese literature, father figures represent forms of authority that both daughters and sons need to grapple with to find answers to questions of identity. In this literature, paternal figures may be marginalized to thematize mother-daughter relationships and identify mothers as an important source of cultural transmission and empowerment. Or they may be viewed as the ancestors of a new diasporic community in a new land. Fathers could also be authoritarian, embodying patriarchal and masculinist authority. Or they could represent the difficulties of assimilation under diasporic conditions.

In her memoir Among the White Moon Faces (1996), Shirley Geok-lin Lim gives her reader an account of the significance of her father in her life, especially after her mother left the family when she was still very young. Left with the father as her sole parent, Lim has a problematic relationship with him, a man who is susceptible to severe rages and capable of physical violence. When she travelled to the United States for further studies, she did so without the accompanying presence of her father. Lim’s immigrant experience in America is realized through the abjection of paternal authority.

The significance of the father to the writing of the immigrant and diasporic experience is elaborated on in the poems selected for publication in Passports and Other Lives (2011). Lim’s poems make clear that even though this father did not join his daughter in her journey to America, he continues to haunt her life in a foreign land through dreams, photographs, and the persistence of memory. Enabling the daughter’s remembrance of her birth country, the haunting presence of paternal authority facilitates literary meditation on the construction of diasporic identity predicated on the tension-filled negotiations between past and present, between remembering and forgetting.


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